It's hockey season again, y'all! That means that my weekly(-ish) Frame-by-Frame analysis is back. For those of you who are new to On the Forecheck and haven't read one of these before, let me explain to you the purpose of these articles and give you a few examples to peruse before you get going on this one.
I got the idea for writing a few years ago these after reading (and loving) Justin Bourne's "Systems Analyst" articles on the now defunct Backhand Shelf. (Go read a few; they're excellent and very informative.) I realized that I really wanted to have similar articles available for the Predators and decided to try my hand at it, since no one else had. I've played hockey for almost 18 years, so I know my way around the game pretty well. I also enjoy teaching the game to people who are less familiar with it, and therefore these articles ended up being a great way for me to do something I love.
Here are a smattering of F-B-F articles from the last two years to browse:
- Kevin Klein and the Best Goal Ever
- It's a Good Morning: No Preds are in Trouble!
- The Perfect Season Ender: A 6 Pack on the Mountain
- 2 Goals in 10 Seconds
- The Preds vs. the Big Bad Bruins
- In Which Corey Perry Sucks
Alrighty, now with that out of the way, let's get started!
Nashville's 1st Goal of the Season
Craig Smith (1) on Craig Anderson, from Filip Forsberg (1) and Derek Roy (1)
Let's do this!
The Preds are on the PP and are just regrouping after Bobby Ryan made a diving, sprawling play to clear the Ottawa zone moments before; this becomes highly relevant in just a minute. Zibanejad (hence forth known as "Zibby") is pressuring Jones to give up the puck, which he will pass up to #PrinceFilip.
This is good work on the part of Zibby, as he is able to force the puck out of the center of the ice and towards the boards, where it can be more easily corralled by his teammates. You can also see Bobby Ryan making his way up the ice in this frame after his earlier spill while clearing the puck. Because he is slightly delayed in entering the play (as a forward), he ends up playing slightly back, which changes the system of this penalty kill.
Welcome to the Diamond PK System! This diamond isn't very aesthetically pleasing, but hey - you take what you can get.
Here are the basics of the diamond: Your best defenseman goes in front of the net, your best forward goes to the top of the circles, and the other two guys hug the sides. The top forward (Zibby) challenges the defenseman (Jones/Ellis), and when the puck moves (say to Forsberg), the strong-side player (Borowiecki) moves into position to challenge him/block the shot/pass, while the weak-side player (arguably Gyrba here due to Roy's positioning, but technically Ryan) covers the weak-side offender so that he is no longer a passing option. The premise isn't much different from the box, but if you're interested I found a good video that talks about the more detailed aspects of the diamond, because Ottawa's diamond doesn't have time to develop enough to really show you how it works.
I doubt that this was Ottawa's original plan, but rather that this was easiest system available to cover for Bobby Ryan's inability to properly regroup in time. So while the most common PK system is a shifting box (see St. Louis here), this is a perfectly good alternative for Ottawa to use.
Assuming they execute it correctly.
Which they almost do.
So far, Ottawa hasn't done too badly at this. They collapse towards the puck, Borowiecki forces Filip to make a move, and when he passes it to Roy, Gyrba steps up and challenges Roy. This is where I want to stop for a second and go off on a short tangent about what Roy does here that is so significant.
Watch Roy (left side of the gif).
Tangent: I thought Filip was great during this game, but his pass to Roy here is hurried and really not that good. The puck is behind Roy, and it forces him to drop his head and twist awkwardly, which puts him in relatively a dangerous position; a mean-spirited Senator could easily come flying into the zone and drop him like a blind-sided rock. So good thing that doesn't happen. Instead, Roy acts like this is the most basic play in the world and is so incredibly calm about the whole thing that is startling (to me, at least). He smoothly snags the puck, transitions from forwards to backwards, and then continues to glide backwards, which creates more time and space for him to assess the situation on the ice and make a smart play. This is what Nashville has been missing: this calm, smooth, easy talent. Players who can handle a pass like this like it's nothing. Watching Roy handle this tiny detail of the play made me so incredibly happy, because that is the kind of player we have been waiting to acquire.
Okay back to the image. Once Filip gives the puck up to Roy, Gyrba correctly steps up and pressure him, but because Roy continues to move backwards, he draws Gyrba further and further away from the net, creating lots of time and space for the incoming Honey Badger, Craig Smith. Of dire importance here is the fact that Bobby Ryan is now the weak-side wing because Gyrba is engaged with the puck; Ryan needs to find out who his man is and cover him. Gyrba actually tries to tell him, and you can see it in the gif. Watch the Senator on defense in the very beginning of the clip - he's pointing to what has to be Craig Smith, and yet Bobby Ryan doesn't seem to pick up on this. Covering your man is important at any point during a game, but especially so during a PK. It should feel suspicious as all hell when you can just kinda stand around during a PK and not have anyone to cover, because there is ALWAYS someone to cover during a PK. Unfortunately for Ottawa, Ryan is just kinda puck watching, which allows HB to sneak down the entire left side of the ice completely unnoticed. That's hilarious, really. It shouldn't happen. Bobby Ryan is better than that - or at least he should be.
This is where Ottawa's diamond starts to fail because Ryan has absolutely no idea that HB is ten feet behind him. Borowiecki is still on Filip and Gyrba is still on Roy (fine), but Zibby and Ryan are both just kinda chillin' - Zibby because he doesn't really have any obligations until someone comes into center ice/the slot (fine), and Ryan I guess because everything seems to be under control? (Not fine.)
Gyrba plays this very well despite Roy's smooth skating skills, so Roy goes to take the shot on Anderson, looking for a rebound. Lo and behold, the puck careens off of Gyrba's skate and rebounds right out to the trailing Filip Forsberg!
Seriously, Bobby... How he doesn't see a little bit of movement out of the corner of his eye, or at least hear him skate past, is beyond me. Ottawa's diamond has also turned into a triangle because Gyrba seems bound and determined to push Roy through the glass instead of at least trying to rejoin the play (he wouldn't be able to make it in time anyway, but he spends a solid 2-3 seconds holding Roy against the glass for no real reason). On top of that, Borowiecki can't quite match Forsberg's jump to the puck and Filip ends up getting the pass off to the seemingly invisible HB. Lots of sloppy defending going on here.
Look how far away Craig Smith is from Bobby Ryan. That's an incredible amount of space. Know where your man is, boys and girls.
To wind up this analysis, I want to go back to the secondary assist thing I mentioned in the beginning for just a second. I know Prince Filip did some solid work on this goal, and he got the assist he deserved to prove it, but if it wasn't for the excellent footwork and skating of Derek Roy, this goal wouldn't have happened. The puck would have been turned over to Zibanejad, the Senators would have cleared it, and the power play would have ended. The kind of easy skill that Roy displayed there is what we have needed for so long. It was one tiny moment in one single game, but I don't think I've seen anything quite like that from a Nashville Predator in a long time. We are in for a good season!